What file format?

File Types and Color Profiles

Anyone who’s ever used Adobe Photoshop can tell you there are 20 different ways to save an image file. Each of these formats has a specific use and reason to exist – but for those of us in the still photography industry there are four major file formats.

Tiff – tagged image file format. One of the oldest and still most widely accepted image formats for high resolution images. Very versatile and flexible, can use varying bit depths and compression schemes.

EPS – encapsulated postscript file. EPS is actually a hybrid between a raster image (photo) and a vector image (think clipping path.)

JPEG – joint photographic experts group. A highly compressed format that is ubiquitous online and in most digital cameras. The compression scheme used in jpeg is lossy, meaning some file degradation will occur when the image is saved in this format.

RAW – Usually a proprietary format used by camera manufacturers that saves the full capture data in a lossless compression. CR2 by Canon and NEF by Nikon are the two most common but DNG (Adobe’s digital negative) is still in use.

Which format you use will vary depending on your purposes, your clients’ purposes and your personal preferences. Here’s a quick breakdown of how we do things at our studio.

Tiff is our standard format. Since most of the work we do is destined for the printed page tiff seems to work best. We deliver uncompressed, 8bit tiffs with an Adobe 1998 or a SWOP profile embedded (more on profiles later.)

EPS files are our goto file when we place clipping paths on an image. I know some designers who just use EPS for everything but personally I like keeping clipped files as eps and square finish files as tiff. When I have a large job in house I can look at the file list and easily know which files got clipped and which didn’t.

JPEG files are also usually requested as many of the people involved with a project are not visual professionals, and as such don’t usually have Photoshop on their computers. Also these images often get passed around to people outside of the marketing department who may try to place them into PowerPoint or MS Publisher docs (which require jpgs.)

Of course each client is different and as you work with each of them you’ll learn their preferences and how they need images delivered. I have some clients that I just send the high resolution tiffs to and they handle all of the conversions as needed. Others I send each image three times (high res tiff or eps, high res jpg, low res jpg.)

We archive all jobs in a couple of different formats. First we keep all of the RAW files from the shoot. Second, all selections are saved in 16bit RGB tiff or psd layer files that contain all of our working paths and channels.

Every different file format has it’s specific niche to fill and does it better than any other format out there. Deciding which to use when is as much about understanding your client’s needs as technical demands.

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